Health Care

CDC urges doctors to screen for Zika-related epilepsy in infants born to infected moms

Mother of baby born with Zika complications shares heartbreaking ordeal

Maria Ramírez de Mendoza got the Zika virus while she was vacationing in Venezuela during the first trimester of her pregnancy. Her baby girl, Micaela Milagros Mendoza, was born with complications stemming from the virus.
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Maria Ramírez de Mendoza got the Zika virus while she was vacationing in Venezuela during the first trimester of her pregnancy. Her baby girl, Micaela Milagros Mendoza, was born with complications stemming from the virus.

Federal health officials writing in a medical journal on Monday urged doctors to be on the lookout for Zika-related seizures and epilepsy among infants born to mothers infected with the virus while pregnant.

Citing recent studies that found seizures and epilepsy reported in some infants exposed to Zika while in the womb, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that cases of epilepsy caused by the virus may be misdiagnosed or under reported.

Health officials have known that Zika increases a pregnant woman’s chances of having a fetus or baby with a brain abnormality, such as microcephaly, and other neurological disorders associated with the virus, which attacks neural tissue.

Zika’s effects on a developing brain are similar to those of other central nervous system infections associated with epilepsy, according to the CDC, whose article cited two research reports conducted in Brazil in 2016 that suggest a link.

By increasing awareness and surveillance of seizures and epilepsy where active Zika transmission is occurring, the article states, health officials may better identify associated cases and improve their understanding of the virus’s impacts.

Zika is primarily transmitted by the bite of infected Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, though the CDC has also reported cases of the virus spreading through blood transfusions, from pregnant mothers to their newborn children, and through sexual contact.

There is no treatment or cure for Zika, whose symptoms include fever, joint pain, red eyes and a rash, though only about one in five people with the virus experience symptoms. However, scientists have been working to develop a vaccine and have launched clinical trials in some areas with confirmed spread of the virus, including Miami.

In 2016, Florida health officials confirmed 1,440 Zika infections, including 292 pregnant women.

But Zika has been nearly dormant in Miami-Dade this year, with two locally acquired cases confirmed and no zones of active transmission identified. In total, state health officials have reported 37 Zika infections statewide, including 20 pregnant women, for 2017.

In addition, state officials have vowed a more robust response to Zika.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s budget proposal calls for new funding for the health department to hire more scientists and conduct more research to combat the spread of Zika, and Surgeon General Celeste Philip said in March that the state’s bureau of public labs has “increased capacity greatly” for testing.

Daniel Chang: 305-376-2012, @dchangmiami

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